Pet Tips

Your Dog’s Anal Sacs – Pet tip 137

Have you ever watched your dog scooting or dragging its hind end along the ground and wondered, “What the heck is he/she doing?” Let me tell you – this dog is marking its territory! The dog makes use of two anal glands that are found just inside the anus. These glands are basically a ‘vat’ that stores a putrid smelling mixture that your dog is hoping will pass along a message to other dogs to “Stay off my turf!”

There is actually another animal that you will probably be more aware of that uses its anal sacs slightly less discretely. The skunk, as well as cats and other animals, also have these glands in their anus, and use them not only for scent marking but also self defense when they spray an intruder. If you’ve ever seen a dog being sprayed by a skunk, you’ll know that this defense mechanism works. It works so well that it even has you running away from your own dog! Now, back to the dog, why can’t they exploit their anal sacs in the same manner as skunks?

Dogs and skunks use their anal glands for different functions. Being a wild animal, the skunk faces many predators and challenges that threaten its life every day. Your pet gets its food brought to it on a silver platter, treats, and a nice bed to sleep on. Thus, the dog has evolved so that it has mostly lost the function of the anal glands. It cannot use them defensively, and as well, has diminished ability to empty the sacs at will. Despite this lack of anal sac function, some dogs will remain successful in secreting the ‘anal juice’ from the sacs merely by normal everyday walking and defecation. Often though, this compromised voluntary anal sac emptying will cause problems.

Problems that arise from the inability to properly empty the little anal sacs may vary in how serious they are. At first, you may notice your dog is looking uncomfortable. They may rub their hind end on the ground, look back at their anus and lick it or some chase their tail. These behaviours result from the secretions that are stored in the sacs being unable to escape, leading to impaction, which causes great discomfort. If this uneasiness in your pet is picked up on quickly, it can easily and painlessly be alleviated. Bring your pet to your regular veterinarian as soon as possible and he/she can express the anal sacs, essentially cleaning them out. Do not underestimate the value of this procedure: if you ‘wait and see’ if the problem will solve itself, there is a very good chance that it will not. Actually, it may get a lot worse, as the secretions keep building up in the anal sac, like a balloon. In this case the anal sac could get so full that an abscess can form, which ruptures, or bursts. This is not a good thing; it is very painful for your pet, and smelly for you! Antibiotics are needed to treat a rupture, as infection will easily ensue. In the end, it will also cost a lot more financially and take up more of your time to treat an anal sac rupture, so take your pet to the vet as soon as it starts scooting.

This advice may be all fine and dandy, but what if your dog does not stop scooting even after you have had its anal sacs expressed? Well, it turns out that some dogs will need several anal gland expressions done shortly after one another to ease the dog’s discomfort. Additionally, since each dog is an individual, each dog’s anal sacs are also varied. Some dogs may need frequent emptying of their glands every couple weeks, months, others every couple years, some never. It is all a matter of carefully watching your dog. Your pet will tell you by scooting, the cue to take him/her to the veterinarian, that something is amiss in the anal region. However, nothing in life is free, and you can imagine, or perhaps have experienced, that if you have a dog that is chronically getting impacted anal glands, the cost can add up. Voice your concerns to your veterinarian, if you don’t mind the smell your vet can teach you how to do the procedure yourself. This can be a great alternative if you are the kind of person that doesn’t mind ‘getting their hands dirty’, plus it saves time and eliminates the stress for your pet of coming into the veterinary clinic. Furthermore, as with any sign we see in our pets, there is not always just one cause. You veterinarian may do other tests and if the anal expression does not resolve the problem, your vet may go looking for some other causes such as worms.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to dogs and their anal sacs is that there is a huge variation in the need for the expression of them. The key, as discussed, is to watch for scooting, or dragging the rear on the ground. An earlier trip to the vet will save both you and your pet a lot of trouble. A high fiber diet may help to keep your dog’s stools more regular, however this should be done only with the recommendation of your veterinarian as it can also turn out to do more harm than good in some cases. Essentially, your vet will assess your dog’s current health status, make a plan, and then look at the outcome to make adjustments to the plan to solve the anal sac problem. Although it may be a pain to deal with, we cannot do anything now about the way our pets have evolved. We can at least be thankful that they no longer have the ability to spray with their anal sacs like skunks!

By Laura Platt – writer

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